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Records show Zimmermann is target of bribery probe
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"Speaking on behalf of the poor and the oppressed and the generations yet to come is not always popular but it is necessary. It is my life's work. It is my work as a public official and it is the work I intend to continue," Dean Zimmermann said. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Court documents indicate Minneapolis City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann is being investigated for allegedly taking bribes in exchange for helping a developer with a rezoning issue. FBI agents seized campaign materials and financial documents from Zimmermann's home and city hall office on Thursday. No charges have been filed. Zimmermann is saying little about the investigation.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The court documents say Zimmermann accepted thousands of dollars in payments that helped pay for attorneys fees and his re-election campaign. A search warrant affidavit alleges Zimmermann took the money from a developer with the promise that he would push the City Council to rezone a property in South Minneapolis.

Speaking before the allegations were made public, the Green Party member said he intends to continue working on the issues that matter most to him..

"Speaking on behalf of the poor and the oppressed and the generations yet to come is not always popular but it is necessary. It is my life's work. It is my work as a public official and it is the work I intend to continue," he said.

But it could be harder for Zimmermann to continue that work. The investigation has thrown his re-election campaign into disarray and he faces serious allegations.

The nine-page affidavit indicates the FBI has audio and video recordings of Zimmermann accepting the alleged bribes. In one instance, the affidavit says the developer asked Zimmermann what he needed in exchange for help on the zoning issue. It says Zimmermann replied "money, money money."

The affidavit says Zimmermann received $7,200 from the developer but the rezoning proposal was never approved. It was rejected by the Minneapolis Planning Commission and the full Council, including Zimmermann. The affidavit says Zimmermann told the developer he could not get any support from other Council members on the issue.

A woman at Zimmermann's home declined to comment. Zimmermann's attorney did not respond to repeated requests for a response to the allegations.

City Council President Paul Ostrow declined to speculate on when or if the Council would take any disciplinary action against Zimmermann.

"Clearly it's something that we're watching and will continue to pay very close attention to but at this point to suggest at one point the Council as a body would need to act is premature right now," Ostrow said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office only says an investigation is ongoing. FBI agents searched Zimmermann's home and his City Hall office. A subpoena issued to city attorneys requested any materials regarding developer Gary Carlson and a property on 2401 Chicago Ave., in South Minneapolis. Calls to Carlson were not returned.

Investigators did interview two City Council members early Friday. Gary Schiff declined to comment because he says he's not the target of an investigation. Robert Lilligren also says he was interviewed as a fact witness and is not a subject of the investigation.

Lilligren and Zimmermann are rivals for the same City Council seat. The two incumbents now live in the same ward because of redistricting. Officials in Zimmermann's campaign have said the investigation is politically motivated. Lilligren denies any suggestion that he played a role in the investigation. He says he's never talked to an FBI agent before and doesn't think he'll have to talk to them again anytime soon.

"It seemed like they were satisfied with the information from today's interview and it didn't seem like there would be a future one," he said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says he's disturbed by the allegations. He wouldn't say if Zimmermann should resign or comment on what impact the situation will have on city government.

"I take these charges very seriously and the city will cooperate in every way that it can with the investigation. My understanding is that this has to do with individuals and not with the city but if it does have anything to do with the city I'm going to take immediate and appropriate action," Rybak said.

For now, Zimmermann's campaign is trying to move forward without the computers, campaign files and other materials seized during the FBI raid. With only a few days until Tuesday's primary, Zimmermann's campaign coordinator, Lauren Maker, says it will be difficult to operate effectively.

"I think it becomes a much tougher race. It's always hard to campaign with a cloud of suspicion over you," she said.

This is the third investigation of a sitting Minneapolis City Council member in recent years. In 2002, Councilmember Joe Biernat was convicted of lying to a federal agent, aiding and abetting a theft and three counts of mail fraud. City Councilmember Brian Herron pleaded guilty to extorting money from a constituent in exchange for regulatory help in 2001.